Angulimala’s Story

I always felt that his was a very intriguing story. Most Indians would be aware of it but just to summarize it,

Buddha was on his usual walking journey and he came to a village. The villagers forbade him to walk through the nearby jungle because there was a dangerous bandit there. This bandit would chop off the fingers of travelling passengers and hang it in a necklace around his neck. So he was called Angulimala.

Buddha went along the forest road unfazed. Maybe he had already divinated who this angulimala was. So when angulimala came in front of Buddha he was about to attack him when Buddha told him that you are really powerful person, but can you do one thing I ask of you? Angulimala said of course, he could! So Buddha asked him to break of a leaf from a tree nearby. He did it easily. Then Buddh asked him to put it back. And Angulimala went silent. And there and then he dropped the violent life and let go. He bowed down to Buddha and became his disciple and was soon enlightened.

I have read a few different versions of this story – what exactly was the exchange between Buddha and Angulimala we don’t know but through very minimal words the transformation happened.

It was an amazing story for me. I didn’t know what to make of it. Supposedly many Buddhists consider it an inspirational story – if Angulimala can attain so can we types – but that doesn’t make any sense to me. I mean here we have Buddha with a whole gaggle of monks and nuns with him and those disciples are working hard to attain. And here is this horrible dacoit who attains such a huge transformation by spending just a moment with Buddha. What does it mean!

Sadhguru looks at it differently and brings insight. I have heard him say that if yoga classes were given to bandits like veerappan they could really do wonders with it. The reason is because these people have a certain intensity in their life. ‘Normal’ city folk type people are often too controlled, they are looking to behave properly and in general are toned down. Or they may even have overzealous ideas of goodness but lack practical sense. So they tend to do yoga inhibitedly and not really be able to give themselves to the process.

So overtime I realize that the only reason Angulimala went through the transformation was because he was ready for it. He didn’t walk the prescribed path, but he reached an inner state, a certain intensity in life and a calibre where with the Buddha’s small touch he dropped all his crap.

And so I find Angulimala’s story very important reminder and message that at the end of day it is not so important to pretend to walk your spiritual path but rather to have some inner clarity and do whatever needed to get spiritual break through. For this you need brutal honesty regards your inner experience. And I find a lot of people making up really pleasant stories for themselves “in my meditation I saw such a beautiful vision” blah blah… One wonders whether this beautiful vision had any real meaning at all except clearly stoking that persons ego about their spiritual level.

So again important to be clear about what spirituality is. And then give importance to the right experiences and right happenings in your life.

Angulimala’s story got completed for me when I came to know about bit of his past. It seems he was a great student at a gurukul of those times. But due to some school politics the teacher wrongs him and he gets kicked out of the university. He returns to his parents but they too shun him cause he is clearly a blot of a kid who was kicked out by his teacher. So as the world really lets this person down he becomes a poisoned dragon and becomes a bandit.

I am not entirely sure how the necklace of fingers part comes about. Some versions of the story suggest that instead of kicking him out, the teacher puts forth an unreasonable demand of a necklace of ‘1000 fingers’ from the student. The student thus becomes Angulimala. But the fact that this guy was a great student but then betrayed by the world confirms to my understanding of the story. Clearly this person is of a certain calibre. And it is with all this calibre, a madness and strong courage that he comes before Buddha. And attains his transformation.

What about his sins?

In Buddhist & Jain religions I find (as much as I have understood) they will not allow for violence or wrong deeds at all. It must be paid for. This is not the case in many Hindu paths. Citing the example of the Shaivite Periyapuranam – it has ample stories of devotees commiting violence, slaughtering animals, even self harm but Shiva sees past the violence. He sees the devotees love and intention and rewards him for it. Same thing with Krishna telling Arjuna to fight for his dharma.

Maybe depending on the social situation – spiritual paths either opt for complete non violence type of approach. This may work better for the working class of people. Then there are paths which accept fighting for truth/dharma etc.. These could be more for warrior class and also poorer class which does eat meat.

Though I am writing this a little generically. It is not so clear to me yet, nor have I paid it great deal of thought. For eg: Buddhists are often non vegetarian. So I am not entirely clear how they deal with the Angulimala story in depth. The reason I am discussing this is so we can ask the question: are Angulimala’s violent deeds cleaned off in that transformational moment? What happens of his sins?

In Jain religion he would have to pay for it dearly. Angulimala would pay for these sins in a very bad way. In fact Mahavira after enlightenment had to undergo torture as per Jain records – his ears were pierced by hot iron rods – this was because of a small sin he committed in his previous births. So Jain’s are very strict with karmic repurcussion ideology it almost scares me. Buddhist also have a detailed karmic repurcussion principal. For eg: if a rich man hordes wealth he will be poor in next life and so on.

In Mahabharata as I mentioned earlier a lot of the violence as per their dharma was accepted. Just some times when the warrior bent rules or acted from their ego then it was a problem. Like when Yudhisthira said a half lie about Ashwashthama – Drona’s son as a ruse to deceive him then it was considered a sin for him. But the thousands that died in the war at their behest is not notched as a major crime AFAIK.

In the story of Angulimala if his teacher had indeed asked him to cut the fingers then as per dharma the karma lies with the teacher more and Angulimala can be considered to be doing his duty as a student. Not sure.

So what happens to Angulimala?

In a version of story I read – even though he attains and becomes a monk. The people around don’t forget that he was the horrible bandit. And he gets stoned, dogs attack him and eventually he dies of these wounds. So maybe this way he did pay of that karma.

It is interesting that there is karma that even enlightened beings have to pay off. Ramakrishna Paramhansa after his enlightenment got throat cancer. Initially he asked God why he got it but then he understood why he got it and accepted it calmly. This is what I read in Ramana Maharishi’s discourse book.

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